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Stones reclaim lost youth on Voodoo Lounge album

VOODOO LOUNGE

The Rolling Stones.

Virgin Records.

Concert at Foxboro Stadium

Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.

By Scott Deskin
Associate Arts Editor

Hard as it may seem, the Rolling Stones have been around for more than three decades. They are rock music's quintessential survivors, outlasting their Brit-rock compatriots in the Beatles and the Who, and riding out every conceivable movement in popular music over the past two decades so that they don't have to prove themselves anymore. In fact, the Stones have not done that much to advance their collective reputation in recent years: Most of their efforts in the 1980s - Undercover, Dirty Work, Steel Wheels - run the gamut from repulsive attempts at political consciousness to a slick and somewhat lazy studio professionalism.

With Voodoo Lounge, the Stones' latest release, the band members (sans recently-departed bassist Bill Wyman) reclaim some of their lost youth, eschewing the trademark freshness and aggression that identifies some of their most vibrant albums of the late '60s and early '70s. The band sounds solid, and sometimes great, for most of the album. The songs, however, are the real revelation, with lyrics that somehow blend the gratuitous and blatant sexuality that is a hallmark of the Stones' tradition with the maturity and wisdom of middle age.

For my money, at least, the formulaic songs that kick off the album (especially "Sparks Will Fly," a shameless rip-off of songs like "Start Me Up") are redeemed by a treasure trove of heartfelt and unposed songwriting: "New Faces" and "Out of Tears" boast an acerbic style of balladry, complete with harpsichord and organ; "Blinded by Rainbows" is a poignant evocation of the fighting in Ireland, a better anti-war song than "Highwire" from Steel Wheels (1989); "The Worst" and "Thru and Thru" give the spotlight on vocals to guitarist Keith Richards, who once again proves that he can really sing.

The Voodoo Lounge tour, which passed through Foxboro Stadium on a chilly Labor Day weekend, showed that this revival in the band's instincts was no fluke. They began their set with "Not Fade Away," a drum-heavy shuffle from the band's early career. I had heard that the band looked a bit stiff opening with this number at their first performance at JFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., but this proved to be a fine warm-up to the rest of the show. As this was not a conventional "greatest hits" tour, the concert plunged deep into the Jagger-Richards songbook. Thus, gems from albums like Let it Bleed (1969), Exile on Main Street (1972), and Some Girls (1978) sounded fresh and vital.

In fact, the four songs from Exile - which remains an album revered by music critics and true Stones loyalists, but is seemingly unknown to the rest of the world - breathed life into the concert amidst some of the less successful new material. "Tumbling Dice," "All Down the Line," and Keith Richards' "Happy" were all emotional wringers.

The show itself was technically superb. The stage had an intertwining grid backdrop of hundreds of lights that pulsed in time to the music, and a rather phallic 300-foot-high, steel, fire-breathing snake hovered over the performers. Giant inflatable people (one of whom looked like Elvis Presley) appeared suddenly late in the show. Large video monitors intermittently showed animation, stock footage, and computer-altered live images from the stage for everyone to see. The somewhat raunchy, burlesque montage of images that accompanied "Honky Tonk Women" was funny and well-deserved of the Stones' reputation.

But it was the performers who inevitably carried the show. Mick Jagger, now 51, still remains a highly physical performer. If his voice sometimes slurred song lyrics (like in the urban stream-of-consciousness diatribe of "Shattered" from Some Girls), it was forgivable. The rest of the band played exceptionally well, with finely meshed guitar riffs from Richards, Ron Wood, and new bassist Darryl Jones fitting in well with Charlie Watts' strong, reliable drumming.

I don't know if the Rolling Stones will perform again for quite a while - the musicians certainly don't need the money. But I was impressed that they gave a strong showing in this concert tour, as if just to prove that they're not content with merely "surviving." For me, the concert was as close to fulfillment of a rock and roll dream as I could hope, and three segments still seem vivid to me: First, the delicacy of the song "Memory Motel," on which Jagger played keyboards; second, the emergence of Mick from the floor of the stage for "Love is Strong," dressed as a psychedelic Mad Hatter; and last, the grand finale, which culminated with "Street Fighting Man," "Brown Sugar," and "Jumping Jack Flash."

Jagger said halfway during the performance, "It's cold out here. Let's see if we can warm it up a bit." With hot music and spirited execution, the band fulfilled his wish.